Hiring the right contractor is challenging, but you can do it right if you are armed with the right information, logic, and reason.
When you hire a contractor, you should expect three things:
- A good price. What you pay should be reasonable and fair. You want the contractor to make money and be happy, and to pay what is fair to you. If you are squeezing the contractor, then it is not fair to the contractor – or your house.
- On-time delivery. No delays, no games and no surprises. Delays are often not under the contractor’s control. In fact, many delays are due to the homeowner’s indecision or procrastination, but the contractor can’t say that or he, or she, risks losing business. There are also cases where subcontractors don’t show up when they’re supposed to, so building a Plan B with plenty of wiggle room at the beginning is key.
- Quality. The right workmanship, attention to detail and lasting quality, when coupled with a great sense of aesthetics, can get you amazing results.
You also want to have trust with your pro. You want the contractor on your side, and you should be on his or her side by bringing them referral work.
1. How long have you been in business?
Are you licensed? Are you insured? Are you bonded? All of these will gain you really important information. Although it is essential information, it’s not enough. Use it as your baseline. Without these kinds of details, you proceed at your own risk.
2. How many home renovations have you done and how many permits are there under your name?
This is their professional history and it speaks volumes. An established, credible history is a sign of doing business the right way, and means that you will have many previous clients to talk to about their experiences with the contractor.
3. Can you give me two or three examples of disputes you had with previous clients and how they were resolved?
Don’t accept lame disputes. Disputes happen and can be expected. You want to know how he or she handles controversy, so you know what you might face if you ever have a dispute with the contractor.
4. Would you be comfortable with me talking to all the permitted project homeowners?
If he or she is comfortable with you talking to everyone, you’ve hit the jackpot. Hire him or her.
5. Who is your ideal customer? Someone who is involved in the details or someone who is hands off? Why?
This will tell you how you should work with the contractor, and you can decide whether or not that suits you. If the contractor prefers a hands-off client and you like to be in on all the details, conflict is more likely to arise. Buckle up for a bumpy ride if you hire a contractor unsuited to your needs.
6. Pretend that I am your customer and start making decisions that seem crazy to you. How would you handle it? Would you tell me I’m crazy or would you stay quiet?
You want someone who can tell it like it is to homeowners, even if their Cadillac-sized egos can’t handle it. You will make mistakes (no matter how brilliant you are) and if you can’t deal with honesty, your contractor won’t be able to help when a need arises. Your contractor needs to feel comfortable being completely honest with you.
MORE: Use Our Pro Fact Sheets to find out which contractors are currently working in your neighborhood.
7. Give me an example of an unreasonable customer you dealt with in the past. How did you deal with him or her?
This is a really important question because you can learn how level-headed the contractor is if there’s a chance you’ll be working together. If the homeowner in the example given seems reasonable to you and the contractor did not handle the situation well, you know it’s time to move on. On the other hand, if the scenario and the way it was handled seem reasonable, then you know you have a logical professional to deal with, which is a huge advantage in the renovation process.
8. Do you think your price is fair? How likely is it to change and under what circumstances?
He or she will tell you “Yes, of course!” Don’t expect a different answer, but try to read somebody language here. You also have a conversation on record that you can refer to when and if the price changes down the road, giving you leverage to negotiate. Bear in mind that prices change and the homeowner is often the one at fault, so don’t always try to blame the contractor.
Having said that, you as a homeowner should understand how pricing works by breaking the cost of the material from the cost of labor. Then you’ll know whether the cost allocated to the materials reflects the type and quality of material you expect. You can always use Kukun’s handy smart bid tool to extract the schedule and material list. If you have expensive taste, let the contractor know that you expect to buy expensive appliances such Miele so that can be reflected in the pricing of material and labor.
9. How comfortable are you with the timeline you gave me? Do you feel it’s reasonable or tight?
Again, this is a conversation you need to have to see if there is any cushion, and as a reference point in case things change down the road. And please do your best not to be the cause of any delays.
10. How long is your warranty on your work good for once the house is finished?
Some contractors will give you a year and others will only give you three months. You clearly want the longest warranty possible. Things will almost certainly break after the house is done. A great contractor will worry about his or her reputation and will want you as a reference, which you should be very willing to do if the contractor built you the cocoon you wanted.
MORE: Use Our Real Time Home Remodeling Calculator and Find Out In Minutes How Much Your Home Renovation Project Will Cost